Adapting to the crisis

Without a doubt, you have heard the phrase “in these unprecedented times” more than you can count in the last couple of months. The isolation and lockdown have taken a pretty big toll on almost all aspects of life and small businesses are no exception to this. As someone who is running a small business and who works closely with small businesses, I have experienced the challenges first-hand.

With that being said, it has also been quite interesting to see how businesses – small and big – have responded quickly to the crisis by changing the way they conduct business on a day-to-day basis. When the lockdown was announced by the Government of Canada, my inbox was flooded with a barrage of emails from different clients asking me to put up notifications on their websites. These notifications were not all about business closures. In fact, most of them were about notifying clients on the new processes that they quickly introduced to continue serving their client base. Physiotherapists introduced online appointment processes; businesses selling physical products quickly started offering their products online via e-commerce; I even have a long-time client who started organizing kids’ parties online through Zoom and other platforms.

The Chinese word for “crisis” is often invoked in the western world as being composed of two characters signifying “danger” and “opportunity”. As cliché as this may sound, we have seen this concept in action throughout the last couple of months in the way that different parts of society found new and innovative ways to respond to the crisis at hand. It has been a true test of our resilience and adaptability as a society and so far we managed to survive it.

As the restrictions are slowly being eased and economies slowly opening, it will be very interesting to see the long-lasting effects of this in the way we conduct business. Some say that remote work is here to stay and that this is the beginning of a new era of telecommuting while others say that as soon as the lockdown is over, we will slowly go back to the old ways. Regardless of what happens, one thing is for sure: human ingenuity and creativity will always find ways to adapt to its environment and keep pushing us forward.

A big shout out to all healthcare and frontline workers, as well as my clients who keep amazing me with their ideas every day!

Why your small business in Vancouver needs a website

Whether you are selling a physical product or providing a service, having a strong web presence is a vital component to your overall business strategy. Your small business needs a good website to be competitive.

How are consumers searching for businesses?

According to Recent Data, over 80% of customers rely on the Internet to find a business near them. To put this in context, your first impression with 8 out of 10 potential customers is made through the Internet. If you are not present in the sphere where majority of consumers are, you are missing 8 out of 10 potential customers for your business.

Is having a website enough?

With the widespread availability of high-speed Internet and mobile data, it has become ever more important for any business – small or big – to have a website. However, according to a 2018 data, only 64% of small businesses have their own website.

When you think about the mismatch between the number of consumers using the Internet to find a business (8 out of 10) and the fact that only 6 out of 10 small businesses are out there on the Internet to be found, it paints a picture full of opportunity! According to a report by GoDaddy, 79% of entrepreneurs with a business website expect to grow at least 25% in the next three to five years, compared to 64% of those without a site.

That being said, just having a website, any website, is not going to give you the results you are expecting. If this was 2005, it might have been a different story but today’s competitive landscape is quite different. There are more and more businesses on the Internet competing for customer attention and it takes more than a simple web page to capture them.

Is any web presence good presence?

While some argue that having a bad looking website is better than having no web presence at all, others claim that an outdated website might do more damage than good when it comes to your brand image and credibility in the consumers’ eyes.

Having worked in marketing and web development for quite some time, I tend to side with the latter argument. I have worked with small businesses in Vancouver that had old, outdated websites that didn’t work on mobile devices and just overall reflected badly on the company.

A colleague of mine used the analogy of showing up for an interview in your shorts and flip flops and expecting to get the job. In a lot of ways your first interaction with a potential customer is a job interview of sorts. When a potential customer lands on your website the interview starts. First impressions are crucial and customers make snap judgements about your business based on what they see on the website. Especially with the short attention span of today’s culture, you have a mere 7-8 second window to convince them to stay and browse some more.

What is a good website?

It comes down to providing quality content with compelling visuals and a nice, clean design. You know your business better than anyone and it is important that you craft your website copy with your customers in mind. What are they looking for? What problem(s) are you trying to solve? What might they be searching on the Internet to find your business? These are not easy questions to answer but they serve as guidelines to keep you focused and provide quality content.

The other piece of the puzzle is where I come in: designing and developing your website with best practices in mind. Some things that are important for a modern website are:

  • Mobile responsiveness
  • SEO friendliness
  • Flexible backend content management
  • Scalability

This list can go on but the above points provide a good starting point for any small business that is looking for a website. Mobile devices account for over 50% of web traffic worldwide, which means your website needs to be responsive to all kinds of device screens out there. Furthermore, your website needs to be built with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind. This is how search engines like Google and Bing find and index your website so that it shows up on search results.

If you are looking to get a website for your small business in Vancouver or you are looking to update your old website, contact me to discuss your project!

What we can learn from “The Ice King”

You’ve probably heard the expression “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Now, trash might not be the best analogy for ice but the expression holds true when we think about the ice trade of the 19th century.

Frederic TudorThis is Frederic Tudor. If you’ve never heard of him before, it’s okay. Neither had I until I recently read Steven Johnson’s brilliant book “How We Got To Now” where he presents 6 discoveries humans made that propelled our species forward to where we are today. And believe it or not, ice was one of them. I am not going to talk about why ice was a game-changing discovery and how it affected human civilization in this article but instead I want to share some interesting facts from Tudor’s venture as the largest ice trader of his time.

What is the big deal with ice?

In the 19th century, ice was a luxury good that was mainly consumed by the rich. Unless you were living in a cold climate where water froze in winter to create natural ice, it was not attainable for the average person.
Frederic Tudor was born to a wealthy family in Boston. As a young man he spent a lot of time in the American Northeast, as well as Cuba. Having experienced extreme cold and extreme heat, he thought that people in warm climates like Cuba would benefit greatly from the wonders of ice, which was abundant in Northeastern United States. It’s also important to note that in the 19th century, ice was the closest thing to refrigeration; it was not only used to cool drinks but also as an air conditioner. (It was not uncommon for hospitals to hang large blocks of ice off the ceiling to cool the rooms).

Tudor’s idea was simple (at least in theory): cut blocks of ice from the frozen lakes and rivers in New England and ship them to warmer climates where people had no access to ice.
There were a few major challenges with this idea, the most important of which was keeping the ice intact without melting during shipment. Over the course of a decade Tudor tried different ideas and lost his entire family fortune in the process, going to debtors prison twice. But he never gave up. He believed that he had a great idea and despite all the hurdles he wanted to see it through.

From prisoner to “The Ice King”

His breakthrough came when he finally discovered the perfect way to insulate the ice while traveling on ships for weeks on end: sawdust. He found out that the sawdust was a much more efficient way to keep the ice intact than hay, which is what he had been using until that point. From that moment onward, his business took off and he died a millionaire in 1864.
Now here’s the brilliance of this entire ice business: Tudor took a product (ice) that cost nothing except the labor to cut frozen chunks out of the lake, he then shipped it for a bargain on boats that were travelling practically empty on their way south, using an insulator that cost him nothing because sawdust was the byproduct of forestry industry in New England and was practically everywhere.
Free ice, free sawdust, empty vessels.

An average New Englander’s “trash” became the “treasure” that Tudor “The Ice King” delivered to far away places.

Tudor’s ice trade was also one of the first examples of a “zero-waste” business model, without even consciously trying to be a sustainable operation. His product was naturally occurring in one part of the world, covered by a recycled byproduct from another industry, transported on vehicles that would otherwise make the trip empty and waste fuel, as well as space.

Lastly, Tudor’s ice trade was a major paradigm shift in business principles. Up until that point, businesses were always attracted to “high energy” locations. Warm climates had fertile soil that could be worked all year round and yielded good produce whereas places like the American midwest were cold with barren lands that could not be used half the time. Never before Tudor had anyone considered that these cold places could offer anything to the rest of the world, let alone frozen water.
Looking at the ice trade of the 19th century in hindsight may not impress us too much, since most of us were born into a world that had refrigerators. (I don’t remember not having a refrigerator ever). But when we think about these events in their own context it becomes a whole different story. People like Tudor are the visionaries of their centuries. They could see what others did not at the time and were probably considered crazy. But that’s just the thing about visionaries, their ideas are so far ahead of their time that sometimes it takes decades for the rest of us to catch up.